A few weeks later, the twins found themselves at a location just outside Neukölln. Rubi took it all in. The studio, or lab if you want, had all sorts of boxes on shelves with tubes going in and out. Karsten, a tall guy with at least twenty rings pierced through his lips, was taken by Rubi’s enthusiasm. He liked the young duo. “It’s nothing more than a mild, local anaesthetic,” he said. “I’ll take a tiny sample of your cells and then we’ll do everything here in the lab.” He gestured enthusiastically as he talked about the flower that he wanted to create for Rubi and Sai. He showed them his own jewel, just above his waistline.
“You see, it’s nothing like a normal tattoo. It has layers and the colours are much more intense.”
The four months needed to prepare the jewels seemed endless to Rubi. The skin cells first had to be modified and multiplied before they could be printed in the shape they had designed with Karsten’s help. Sai was also a little nervous. The famous Rubi and Sai had attracted quite a lot of attention with their body jewels. And there were people with similar jewels all over the internet now. Would they be in time to inspire their online friends and attract more followers to their vlog?
Finally, Rubi and Sai returned to Berlin. Karsten would attach the jewel to the skin with some sort of bio-glue. When he showed the twins the two jewels, they could not believe their eyes. They looked even better than the three-dimensional figure on Karsten’s body. “I’ve applied a new technique to let the green come out even better,” Karsten tells them proudly. When the twins walked out of the studio, their arms were still covered in bandages. “You need to protect it for at least a week,” Karsten told them, but they could hardly wait to show their mum and dad.
Back at home, dad was more excited than Rubi and Sai had expected, but also a little concerned. Under the bandages, the body jewels did not look as incredible as Rubi claimed. Dad found them a little weird, almost like a fibroma. But Rubi wouldn’t listen. A few days later, she revealed the body jewels on their vlog. Just as they had predicted, the views poured in. “Over 10,000 views within an hour.” Karsten would like that too and gain some customers in return for his help. Sai was also delighted. The views and the likes gave them a lot of data about their viewers that he could easily sell for a lot of money.
Dad’s concern was not unfounded. He had seen pictures of horrible infections on the internet. But that wasn’t even the worst of it. Some online articles suggested that these jewels could develop into cancer, with cells dividing and migrating. Or the material might travel to other parts of the body where it could do damage. “Would it be possible to remove the jewel?” he wondered.
The National Health Inspectorate had launched a debate about body jewels even before the EU could ask for expert advice on regulatory restrictions. Without robust knowledge about the long-term effects, the NHI was already advising against using these techniques in DIY studios. It emphasised that the technology was in its infancy and that the health risks were unclear. One of the questions raised in the public debate was who should pay for medical care if something went wrong. Many people thought that public money shouldn’t be used to treat people who had allowed themselves to be used as guinea pigs. Some wanted to forbid body jewels altogether. Others thought that people had the right to do what they wanted with their own body, and that proper regulation should prevent the use of hazardous materials, inappropriate facilities and high-risk procedures carried out by people without the right medical training. For dad, these were not real issues. He was simply worried about his kids.
“The EU has no say in this”
Mum was also increasingly unhappy about the twins’ body jewels. She followed the debate and read that politicians in Brussels were talking about banning consultants for overseas beauty treatments and punishing underground DIY parlours. Their fear was that criminals would use this technique to copy fingerprints and sell them on the Dark Web. However, legal experts explained that it was extremely difficult for the EU to restrict DIY practices, especially if studios offered their services for free to friends and acquaintances or as part of a barter system. And because authorities in other parts of the world were more lenient about commercialising these technologies for body art purposes, regulation was even more difficult.
The more mum heard, the angrier she got. Health and safety had not been a priority in this field, much less so than in the public medical sector. There was no evidence that the procedure was safe – in fact, quite the contrary. Body jewels might have been a Medi Valley spin-off, but what the colouring and layering would do to the property and safety of the printed skin had never been clinically tested. “If this is true, I want yours to be removed immediately,” she screamed at Rubi and Sai.
Rubi tried to calm her down: “Don’t worry, mum. The studio also does all sorts of regular implants that track your health and that kind of thing. These have been available for years now and people like Karsten know what they’re doing in their studio.” But mum was not convinced. She continued to worry about the risks. The National Health Inspectorate must have good reasons to be cautious about body jewels.